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Calgary City Council votes resoundingly to ban conversion therapy

Last Updated May 26, 2020 at 10:50 am MST

The pride flag waves outside McDougall Centre in downtown Calgary ahead of the start of pride month. Monday, August 27th, 2018 (Tom Ross - 660NEWS)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — With a near-unanimous vote, Calgary City Council has banned conversion therapy.

In a lengthy meeting on Monday afternoon, councillors agreed it was a momentous move to bring an end to the controversial practice.

“We are standing up for the dignity of every human being who is fortunate enough to share this land,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

While all 14 councillors and the mayor voted in favour of the ban in first reading, Coun. Joe Magliocca voted against the second and third readings, so the final vote for the bylaw is 14-1.

There were lots of, sometimes repeated, questions on specific wording of the bylaw and concerns were addressed as to whether it infringed on religious freedoms.

Time and time again, in response to these questions administration and legal representatives with the city made it clear that the bylaw only prohibits businesses from offering the so-called therapy and does not include conversations people have in private or non-judgemental advice given by faith leaders.

The vote brings an end to months of discussion on the matter, as council also heard submissions from hundreds of members of the public and thousands more submissions were made via letters or e-mail.

Some of these submissions, as noted by councillors, were discriminatory and critical of the move.

Coun. Evan Woolley, one of the staunchest supporters of the ban, wanted to make it clear what they are trying to do.

“To prohibit what is a very specific and incredibly horrific and harmful practice that we know takes place in our community.

“There are significant vulnerable people in our community who are being severely harmed to the point of taking their own lives by a very small subsection of our community that are undertaking these practices.”

RELATED: Supporters gather as council looks to ban conversion therapy

Staff added that they are confident the bylaw can be defended in court and they are ready to enforce it.

Questions were also raised about the liability of property owners when conversion therapy takes place on their land by a tenant, with legal representatives detailing how they would use discretion and such charges would only be laid if the landlord turned a blind eye when they knew it was happening.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek also took issue with people who speculated this was a breach of religious rights, as she stated her own personal beliefs in why the ban needs to go forward.

“Gender diverse people do not need to be saved. With the rest of us, they need to be supported, loved and treated with dignity, respect and inclusivity. There is nothing in this bylaw that prohibits people of faith from practicing that faith,” she said.

Mayor Nenshi also added we need to continue welcoming the LGBTQ community after all of the challenges they have faced.

“To ensure that LGBTQ people, and particularly our trans brothers and sisters, have the ability to live that life with dignity that so many of the rest of us take for granted,” Nenshi said.

Coun. Jeromy Farkas also told his own personal story of his sexual orientation and how he faced ridicule in his past, as he passed along the message that hopefully this provides hope.

“It is meaningful and I think it is worth sending a signal about the kind of city we are and want to be,” he said.

There were a couple of amendments proposed after the first reading by councillors Magliocca and Sean Chu, but they were easily defeated.

Magliocca suggested changing the bylaw to the wording used in the first reading of the federal government’s proposed legislation banning conversion therapy, but his colleagues said that would weaken Calgary’s bylaw and it is unlikely the federal law will have the same wording when it goes through two more readings.

Magliocca then voted against the next two readings of the local bylaw, although he did state he supported the ban.

Coun. Chu wanted to add wording about informed consent, but legal counsel said that would create loopholes and the amendment was shot down.

One sentiment echoed by a few councillors was that they wished it wasn’t up to them to finally make such a decision.
“I do have two regrets,” Coun. Druh Farrell said.

“I regret that we haven’t done this sooner. And I regret that so many people had to relive their painful experiences in order to get us to this point.”

As the debate wound down and the final vote approached, Woolley had final parting words for the people who had flooded inboxes with hateful comments and still opposed the ban as they were concerned it was their rights being infringed upon.

“Reflecting on this, ten years from now, think about what side of history that you want to be on.”